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virtual reality (VR) job fair
VR-Related

Rethinking the Virtual Job Fair

In times of economic uncertainty and large scale unemployment, job fairs provide an opportunity for large numbers of job seekers to identify employers who are hiring in one convenient location. Given recent circumstances, we are now seeing a rise in virtual job fairs, aiming to connect job seekers with prospective employers purely online. Virtual job fairs can take different forms ranging from a simple list of employers websites to live video presentations to scheduled one on one sessions.

While virtual job fairs serve a necessary purpose, they lack the hustle and bustle of an in-person event in which employers and job seekers can meet face-to-face for interviews, informative sessions, and assessments. Casual networking is particularly challenging given the limitations of current online tools like video and chat. Not surprisingly, attendees often describe the virtual job fair experience as frustrating and disjointed.

Virtual Reality (VR) presents an opportunity not only to improve the virtual job fair experience but also to redesign it from the ground up. Why meet in a conference hall behind a booth or table when employers can showcase a fully immersive version of their office as a way to highlight their company’s culture? Why just share a job description when you can have prospective employees engage with a simulation of the actual job? Why attempt to network across a video screen when VR provides an experience where dozens of people can connect with one another in an open, 3D environment? VR opens the door for creativity when it comes to recruitment and also provides job seekers unexpected benefits like anonymity if desired.

As with other applications, VR provides the closest experience to meeting in person of any technology available. Personalized avatars allow for subtle, nonverbal communication like gestures, directional gazing, and movements within 3D space. These types of interactions in a distraction-free, focused environment allow applicants and employers to conduct meaningful interviews and informative sessions in a way that closest replicates a real job fair.

Like other live events, VR presents an opportunity to explore new paradigms for remote events where the technology can not only replicate but push beyond the experience as it is today.

virtual reality (VR) job fair
VR-Related

Rethinking the Virtual Job Fair

In times of economic uncertainty and large scale unemployment, job fairs provide an opportunity for large numbers of job seekers to identify employers who are hiring in one convenient location. Given recent circumstances, we are now seeing a rise in virtual job fairs, aiming to connect job seekers with prospective employers purely online. Virtual job fairs can take different forms ranging from a simple list of employers websites to live video presentations to scheduled one on one sessions.

While virtual job fairs serve a necessary purpose, they lack the hustle and bustle of an in-person event in which employers and job seekers can meet face-to-face for interviews, informative sessions, and assessments. Casual networking is particularly challenging given the limitations of current online tools like video and chat. Not surprisingly, attendees often describe the virtual job fair experience as frustrating and disjointed.

Virtual Reality (VR) presents an opportunity not only to improve the virtual job fair experience but also to redesign it from the ground up. Why meet in a conference hall behind a booth or table when employers can showcase a fully immersive version of their office as a way to highlight their company’s culture? Why just share a job description when you can have prospective employees engage with a simulation of the actual job? Why attempt to network across a video screen when VR provides an experience where dozens of people can connect with one another in an open, 3D environment? VR opens the door for creativity when it comes to recruitment and also provides job seekers unexpected benefits like anonymity if desired.

As with other applications, VR provides the closest experience to meeting in person of any technology available. Personalized avatars allow for subtle, nonverbal communication like gestures, directional gazing, and movements within 3D space. These types of interactions in a distraction-free, focused environment allow applicants and employers to conduct meaningful interviews and informative sessions in a way that closest replicates a real job fair.

Like other live events, VR presents an opportunity to explore new paradigms for remote events where the technology can not only replicate but push beyond the experience as it is today.

virtual reality (VR) live events
VR-Related

Limitless: Live Events in VR

In 2019, live events ranging from conferences to concerts to sporting events generated tens of billions of dollars in ticket revenue. With recent losses exceeding 90%, the live events industry must answer two critical questions. How do you put on a live event without any attendees and how do you generate revenue without ticket sales?

In the tech industry, where direct losses exceed $1 billion alone, live conferences provide a forum for learning, networking, promotion, and collaboration but that is all predicated on everyone being in the same physical space at the same time. So how can event holders recreate the feeling and function of being at a live event safely and without the need to travel?

Virtual Reality (VR) offers the closest experience to being in person of any technology or medium. Many organizations have been embracing VR for live entertainment for years. The NBA streamed it’s first live game in VR back in 2015 and Oculus Venues streamed its first live concert back in 2018. More recent examples include the largest VR music and arts festival, Lost Horizon, which is set to take place this summer with over 50 performers and 4 stages.

Though the entertainment industry may have been the first group to embrace VR for live events, recent circumstances have forced all live event promoters to strongly consider VR in lieu of in person gatherings. HTC and the IEEE both held VR-only conferences this year and while technology companies may currently be leading this trend, other industries are soon to follow as the pandemic continues and travel budgets are cut.

While the move toward conferences and other live events in VR is positive for the health of attendees, the environment, and the organizers bottom line, it also presents a unique opportunity to revisit the live event experience from the ground up.

While VR can replicate being in familiar venues such as arenas, presentation halls, or trade floors, it can also bring attendees into fantastical environments to participate in new types of interactions and experiences not possible in the real world. We don’t need stadiums or conference centers to hold a virtual audience. We are in new uncharted territory with limitless possibilities. Performers and speakers can be on top of clouds, in the International Space Station, or appear larger than life in front of 12 million fans. Presenters can take an audience on a curated, immersive journey of their product or service and those in attendance can take on any form or appearance.

As evidence of the move toward VR for live events, tech giant Apple recently purchased NextVR, a platform known for producing immersive experiences in sports, music, and entertainment. Apple hopes to incorporate the platform into its music streaming subscription service and its growing video streaming platform, offering subscribers the option to attend concerts or live events virtually. Forget the streaming wars that seem to be all the focus lately, the new frontier is VR for live events.

virtual reality (VR) soft skills
Soft Skills

Four Ways VR Elevates Soft Skills Training

A recent LinkedIn survey revealed that 92% of talent professionals reported that soft skills are equal or more important in the hiring process than hard skills and 89% say that bad hires typically lack soft versus hard skill requirements.

While may seem counterintuitive, VR provides unprecedented means to replicate and practice real world social experiences, and advance soft skills:

1. Comfort in Anonymity. Improving soft skills requires playing out different roles and scenarios. This can be intimidating for those who don’t feel comfortable ‘acting’ or ‘pretending.’ With VR, identity and voice are fully anonymized freeing participants to focus on the ‘real’ situations they find themselves within VR.

2. Breaking Down Walls. Detailed and authentic environments provide a level of immersion that is hard to replicate within a traditional physical space. The feeling of having already experienced something results in greater confidence and familiarity when entering into actual situations.

3. The Immediacy of Empathy. Empathy is one of the fundamental soft skills to learn but also one of the most difficult to teach. With VR, roles can quickly be reversed creating an immersive change in point of view instantly. A doctor can immediately become a patient and vice versa. This allows participants to focus on visceral feelings instead of intellectual reactions.

4. The Man and the Machine. For VR soft skills training, AI provides an always on partner, ready to practice scenarios that require repetition. This is incredibly valuable but even more so when more people get involved. Feedback and encouragement provided by human participants that join AI role players provides the best of both worlds. AI provides a constant to evaluate and measure progress while humans provide motivation and direction (also soft skills).

Foretell Reality is an enterprise VR solution for interpersonal communication and business collaboration. Learn more here.

virtual reality (VR) empathy
Therapy and Support

VR as a Tool for Empathy

Unconscious bias can manifest itself in many different ways. Whether it is racial, gender, or age bias, changing ingrained perceptions starts with empathy and the willingness to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Though not a magic bullet, Virtual Reality (VR) can help by immersing people into experiences from the point of view of someone else.

A recent example is a 12 minute VR film that immerses viewers in the life of a fictional African American man as he encounters racism as a child, adolescent, and adult. Courtney Cogburn, an assistant professor at Columbia’s School of Social Work, is one of the filmmakers.

“We wanted people to have a visceral sense of what this feels like,” she said. “It’s more likely to trigger empathy, and to help you understand the scope and nature of racism and racial inequality in our society.”

Getting people together in VR to role play real life scenarios while embodying the role of different genders, ages, and races is another way to build empathy. It is one of the applications that Foretell Reality supports through customizable, life-like avatars that can interact with one another within virtual spaces that simulate real world scenarios.

Foretell Reality is an enterprise VR solution for interpersonal communication and business collaboration. Learn more here.

virtual reality (VR) therapy
Therapy and Support

Virtual Therapy Needs Virtual Reality

In these challenging times, more and more patients are turning to virtual therapy. So much so that TalkSpace, a leading telemental health platform that lets patients connect with licensed therapists, has seen a 65% increase in the last month or so.

While there are obvious reasons for an increase in remote therapy given the pandemic, there are also many benefits that will outlast it: not having to travel to an office, not having to take time off from work, not having to make arrangements for childcare while out, and not having to switch doctors if in a different location.

While the benefits of virtual counseling are clear, there are also drawbacks. Sessions over video can be prone to outside distractions, inconsistent video quality, and do not allow for anonymity. Patients and therapists alike may also feel self conscious being on video, particularly in group settings. This is best described by therapist Cynthia Chalker, “You have a mask of invisibility that you impose on yourself, and suddenly you’re seeing yourself seeing your patient, and it’s disconcerting, to say the least. ‘I look like that?’”

Virtual Reality(VR) offers an alternative to video, chat, or audio by creating an immersive feeling of presence free from outside distractions. All participants occupy the same three-dimensional space in the form of virtual avatars. Those who wish to remain anonymous can do so while still retaining a tangible identity. Avatars also allow for group role play and realistic environments can be used to place patients into challenging situations in order to surface memories under the guidance of a therapist.

Just as with other telehealth platforms, virtual reality platforms designed for individual and group therapy are both secure and HIPAA compliant. For example, XRHealth, a VR telehealth company that leverages Foretell Reality for support groups, is both HIPPA compliant and is covered by Medicare and most major insurance providers.

Therapy is an experience that can be difficult to replicate virtually. Ricardo Rieppi, a therapist practicing in New York City speaks about this, “there’s an embodiment that happens when you’re with a person. As therapists, we use our own counter-transference, our watchful, hovering empathy, to do our work. That’s difficult online. All the minutiae, my going out, meeting them at the door, their taking a chair or the couch—you don’t have that anymore. And I’m seeing the patients in their own home.”

If Rieppi were to use virtual reality, he may find more of the embodiment he is seeking. VR can enhance empathy, increase eye contact, and most importantly, allow users to feel present with one another.

With more and more people seeking mental help while remote, the limitations of video, chat, and audio alone are becoming apparent. Virtual reality offers more authentic human interactions in engaging, immersive, and distraction free environments.

Foretell Reality is an enterprise VR solution for interpersonal communication and business collaboration. Learn more here.

Collaboration

Virtual Reality is the Platform for Team Building

With a rapidly growing remote workforce, there is a risk of team members becoming ever more isolated from one another. While many platforms exist for connecting remote colleagues and teams, virtual reality (VR) is the only technology that makes team members in different physical locations feel like they are all sharing the same space.

A shared VR environment is not only a more natural way to collaborate, it also provides an opportunity to build cohesion, trust, and empathy through fun and challenging team building exercises. Immersive activities can range from collectively detonating a bomb to escaping the room to ping pong competitions to meditation retreats.

Team building can also involve role playing where different team members take on identities that place them in roles and scenarios they may never have in the real world. This allows for empathy and understanding of what other team members may feel and experience themselves. For example, a male colleague may play the role of a female of color during a pitching exercise or a manager can take on the role of a front-line employee dealing with a challenging customer.

Virtual reality for team building has many advantages not only to other remote collaboration platforms but also to real world exercises. These include:

  • Experience of being in the same environment versus sharing a screen.
  • No need for physical travel.
  • Team building activities not confined by constraints of the physical world.
  • Role play that builds empathy and cohesion among team members.
  • Cost savings for travel, lodging, and activity expenses.

Virtual reality is the only platform that truly brings a team together. In these challenging times and beyond, it offers an experience that is immersive, engaging, and most importantly, shared.

Foretell Reality is an enterprise VR solution for interpersonal communication and business collaboration. Learn more here.

Therapy and Support

3 STUDIES IN 3 MINUTES: VR & MENTAL HEALTH

There are hundreds of studies about the effectiveness of virtual reality (VR) in treating a variety of psychological ailments. These three studies were all chosen from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Library of Medicine and were published in the past 12 months.

Given how fast VR technology is moving, accessibility and the experiences available during these studies (many conducted in 2018) was significantly behind where it is today.

In addition to summarizing the study and findings, I provide rationale for continuing the study with the current generation of VR.

Study #1: Improving Mood and Emotional Well-Being

Published early this year (prior to COVID-19), this study seeks to answer the question of whether simulated nature environments can provide the same level of emotional well-being as an actual outdoor experience.

Healthy undergraduate students walked for 6 minutes in the woods while others viewed 360-degree nature videos in virtual reality of the same outdoor setting.

Skin conductivity, restorativeness, and mood before and after exposure were measured and compared between the two groups.

The study found that both types of nature exposure increase physiological arousal, benefit positive mood levels, and both were restorative compared to an indoor setting without nature.

Though outdoor exposure still provided a greater degree of benefit to mood than virtual reality, the study concludes that in areas where access to the outdoors is limited or not possible, virtual reality exposure provides tangible benefits.

Given this study was published prior to COVID-19, it takes on greater relevance today and it would be very interesting to see a broader test group as well as a more immersive VR experience than just 360 video. Moreover, the ability to take a walk with someone else (even a therapist) could be particularly powerful especially in times of isolation.

Link to study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6974516/

Study #2: Treating Specific Phobia, Social Phobia and Agoraphobia

This study reviewed nine previous studies through June 2019 which compared the effectiveness of in vivo methods of treating Specific Phobia, Social Phobia and Agoraphobia versus virtual reality treatments, specifically exposure therapy.

The study defined the disorders above as follows:

“Patients with Specific Phobia fear specific situations or objects such as animals, heights, thunder, darkness or closed spaces. Social Phobia patients report fear of scrutiny by other people, which leads to an avoidance of social situations. Agoraphobia is characterized by a fear of situations in which fleeing from the situation or help is not easily accessible, such as crowds in public spaces, leaving home, entering shops, or traveling alone in a train, bus or plane.”

Based on reviewing the nine previous studies, the authors concluded that there was “no evidence that VR exposure is significantly less efficacious than in vivo exposure in Specific Phobia and Agoraphobia. The wide range of study specific effect sizes, especially in Social Phobia, indicates a high potential of VR, but also points to the need for a deeper investigation and empirical examination of relevant working mechanisms.”

Regarding social phobia, the study goes on to suggest that “a combination of VR exposure with cognitive interventions and the realization of virtual social interactions targeting central fears might be advantageous. Considering the advantages of VR exposure, its dissemination should be emphasized. Improvements in technology and procedures might even yield superior effects in the future.”

Given advancements of the past 12 months, we now have the ability for a therapist to easily enter a social VR experience with their patient in order to provide real-time cognitive interventions during the treatment experience.

Similarly, role play and other group therapy exercises are much more accessible requiring only a standalone headset and internet connection. In light of these advances, a new study revisiting social phobia treatment should be considered.

Link to study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6746888/

Study #3: Support Groups in VR

Using a 38-item survey which itself was based on a previous randomized trial, this study asked amputee support group attendees to answer a series of questions over a period of months.

The intent of the study was to both understand what participants were seeking in a support group as well as what technologies they would be open to using for remote meetings.

Specifically, the researchers were interested the efficacy of “virtual technology in improving amputee support group engagement.” Virtual technology was defined as follows:

“Characteristics of virtual worlds include persistence, anonymity, 24/7 access to individuals globally, and virtual embodiment [8]. Persistence is the ability of the virtual environment to continue to operate, use, and collect data irrespective of whether individuals are interacting with it via their avatars [8]. Virtual worlds are anonymous because the use of avatars allows the user to mask their identity, which includes the ability to alter their age, gender, physical appearance, and other characteristics including disabilities. Virtual worlds allow amputees to interact globally, overcoming geographic limitations and isolation. Virtual embodiment allows users to interact with their virtual geography including other individuals and objects in the environment and in the virtual world [10]. In other words, the virtual world environment may allow people to participate in support group sessions with a level of access and anonymity that is not possible in a face-to-face support group setting.”

Study participants were provided with an avatar and social virtual environments but did not attend an actual support group. Instead, they were asked about what technology they would use to attend a meeting – Teleconferencing, Video Conferencing or Virtual Technology.

The results revealed that 60% of respondents between ages 20-39 were somewhat or very likely to participate in a virtual amputee support group and over 30% of those age 39-59 said the same. This was higher than video conferencing and slightly lower than teleconferencing.

Given that this study was an exploration of what is needed to create a strong support group as well as what role technology could play in it, the logical next step would be to make VR technology available to those who felt they would benefit from it.

More importantly, the study was conducted in 2018 using 2D virtual environments rather than the immersive 3D social virtual reality that is readily available today. A follow up survey with this same group after attending VR support groups would be very informative.

Link to Study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6777423/

Foretell Reality is a VR platform for professional communication and business collaboration.

Therapy and Support

Virtual Reality for AA Meetings

In yet another example about how our lives continue to be upended by COVID-19, a recent piece in the New York Times highlighted the particular challenges of Alcoholic Anonymous members who can no longer attend weekly, in-person meetings.

This is a major health issue given that meetings are central to recovery, and isolation, stress, and anxiety can all act as triggers to relapse. As the author notes:

“During a time ‘people who can drink normally’ — A.A. lingo for nonalcoholics — are stocking up on liquor, A.A. members, and there are some 2.1 million of us, are hellbent on keeping the meetings going,”

And to keep them going, many have turned to Zoom, attending meetings sometimes multiple times a day with as many as 50 other members in the room. While the author notes that the Zoom meetings can be “coherent and powerful” at times, she also highlights several shortcomings of video conferencing for these types of interactions.

The good news is that there is now an alternative to video conferencing. Support groups held in virtual reality (VR) address many of the shortcomings of video while providing additional benefits.

Below are excerpts from the article followed by observations of how virtual reality could improve the experience.

“In my experience, A.A. is about bodies in space — hugs, pats on backs, a tissue when you need it.”

One of the primary differentiators between video and VR is that VR is spatial. Unlike the ‘Brady Bunch’ grid of faces common in video chat, avatars sit in chairs in a life-like room. If I turn to the left, I see those sitting to my left. If I look up, I see the same ceiling as everyone else.

And though we are not quite at the point of replicating the feeling of a hug in VR, fist bumps, high fives, handshakes and other hand gestures provide haptic feedback. In other words, when I turn to my neighbor and we touch hands, I will feel a small vibration. And I can always pass a virtual tissue even if it is just a gesture of support.

“Of course, the applause was silent, since we were all streaming the meeting and we were all on mute.”

Unlike video chat, audio within VR is spatial. So if the person to my right is speaking, I will hear it first in my right ear and, when I naturally turn, the person’s voice will become a bit clearer and louder.

More importantly, voice in VR tends to be sharper than in video chats because audio levels and clarity channeled through a common device (the headset) versus being subject to the limitations of everyone’s unique microphones.

“In short order we have grown used to disclosing our intimate secrets into our laptop cameras, like a bunch of extremely earnest and fully dressed camgirls. It has been weird.”

One of the primary advantages of support groups held in VR is that all participants assume the identity of a personalized avatar. There is no need to stress about how you look on camera or whether the lighting is right or whether someone may walk into the room itself. Everyone in a VR support group is in a shared space with the same virtual views of one other and the environment.

“Still, knowing I’m on the internet discussing the most shameful part of my life, and changing my profile hastily to delete my last name, makes me freshly nervous about how candid I can be in this setting.”

With recent issues around video chat security (Zoom bombing) as well as the fact that anyone can take a screenshot at any time and reveal everyone who was in a meeting, it is understandable that privacy concerns exist when attending support groups remotely.

One of the primary advantages of virtual reality is that identity is fully protected through the use of avatars. Real world names and faces are not visible and hints about the real world location of the participant are not revealed through their camera.

“The memory of that gift, of how bad it once was and how, to my daily astonishment, good it is now, is what I get from the global network of rudimentary 3-D meeting spaces known as “the rooms.”

Virtual reality provides the closest experience to being in a physical room outside of actually being there. Whether the room is meant to be a realistic recreation of an actual meeting room or it is designed to instill calm and focus, the benefits that come with the familiarity and repetition of meeting in the same place each week can be replicated in VR.

“On Zoom, an icon appeared: another “hand” was raised, and the chair of the meeting unmuted someone, who displaced me in the center of the screen.”

Here, the author summarizes one of the biggest overall issues with video conferencing for support groups. The flow of conversation is disjointed and unnatural with the screen jumping from participant to participant based on them triggering their audio. This means everyone has to mute, then unmute and then re-mute every time they wish to speak.

In VR, participants are seated in a circle and anyone can raise their hand and speak at any time without displacing someone else on the ‘screen.’ This creates a much more life-like and free flowing space for interacting and sharing without distraction.

“I heard that alcoholics fear two things: Change. And the way things are right now. The trick is accepting both.”

Attending an AA meeting remotely is certainly a change but virtual reality can make that change feel less abrupt and unnatural. Even after this current situation has passed, here are plenty of people who can benefit from being able to join a remote support group in a realistic, familiar setting without fear of their privacy being compromised.

Foretell Reality is an enterprise VR solution for interpersonal communication and business collaboration. Learn more here.

Collaboration

VR is the Future of Remote Meetings

This piece by Glimpse CEO Lyron Bentovim highlights the benefits of VR over video conference calls. Among them are higher engagement, more meaningful connections, fewer distractions, and the ability to mimic realistic peer-to-peer interactions.

Read more about each of these benefits here:

https://ceoworld.biz/2020/04/10/stop-your-video-conferencing-headaches-virtual-reality-is-the-future-of-remote-meetings
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